A Conversation with Vicki Davis, Founder of Westwood Schools Wikispace

Earlier today, I taked with Vicki Davis (blog), a teacher in the Westwood Schools, Camilla, GA. Vicki is a technology teacher, and the visionary behind the Westwood Schools wikispace, one of the most advanced, well-thought out, and transformative applications of a wiki to education that I’ve seen yet. Vicki is truly at the forefront, and the conversation speaks for itself. This is the start of a series, in which I’ll post Vicki’s answers to my questions on a range of topics including planning your wiki use, types of assignments, and teachers’ & students’ reactions.

Vicki D. Hello Stewart. I have your questions and I’ve prepared some answers for them.
Stewart M. Hi Vicki
Stewart M. Sounds great!
Stewart M. What inspired the mashup on the front page of the wiki?
Vicki D. To make things relevant to the students, I like to show it in action. We’ve been talking about mashups and some got it and some didn’t. We’ve also talked about RSS with the same result. When I did this, they all 100% got it becuase I did it in a way that is meaningful to them. They see the various sources and see how it is aggregated. There is nothing like a live example that is relevant to teach.
Vicki D. I am encouraging them to mashup on their semester project using the RSS feed option added to Wikispaces recently. They can also look at my code and see how I did it to do it themselves.
Stewart M. Your account of the two girls squealing with delight over the fact that material on the wiki was going to directly help them with their project is amazing – that must have been quite a day with so many people wanting to know what was going on
Vicki D. It was totally exhausting. All of the teachers, the curriculum director, and students who aren’t in my class were coming in to see what it was. Amazingly my students started teaching those who weren’t in my classes and made wikis of their own.
Vicki D. When I started wikis it was totally exhausting but exhausting not from frustration but because of overwhelming success!
Vicki D. Teachers were asking what this wiki thing was and some of them were nervous that the kids were somehow “cheating.” It took a little effort to assuage fears and I also talked to kids about the difference between aggregating information and sharing answers.
Vicki D. Only one incident of answer sharing happened, it was handled, and no other problems have happened since. Its worked very well!
Stewart M. I’m reading your answers with more and more amazement – the way you’ve structured assignments like the word projects with groups in your two computer science classes is head and shoulders above what most people are doing, and is really exposing the true potential of the web.
Vicki D. This is where things are going. The students prefer wikis over blogs for CLASSROOM work. They value blogs over wikis for sharing opinions. The fact is, they get it. They teach me.
Vicki D. It is really an easier and better way of teaching. When someone is involved in the teaching process they learn so much more than when they sit and listen to a lecture.
Stewart M. Yes – aggregating information vs. sharing answers is something I’m explaining quite often too – I think teachers need to be shown that aggregating information eliminates the useless repetition of basic facts that leaves them unengaged and the teachers with 20 identical papers to read.
Vicki D. It is so mind blowing for teachers and the first response to anything new is — “We never needed that before so why should we use it now.”
Vicki D. The only thing permanent in these kids lives is change. If we want them to be effective participators in this global community we must MODEL that behavior and change from CHANGE FIGHTERS to CHANGE MAKERS.
Stewart M. I think that reaction is the clear indication of something revolutionary – they understand just enough to see it as completely different, but then they don’t know what to make of it.
Vicki D. Absolutely revolutionary. It scared me to death. I had a humble little quiet project started with just the curriculum director involved and it literally erupted over the whole high school.
Stewart M. This generation already is less resistant to change, in my opinion, and tools like the wiki enable them to do it in a tangible way.
Vicki D. Change is tough. We fear it. I was at Georgia Tech when the Internet was first emerging and learned how to program in hypercard on a Mac. I told others “Oh, these professors are so out there, this will never happen.” I was wrong. I will not be wrong again.
Stewart M. Good for you!
Vicki D. This generation is a generation of intuitive learners. The generation teaching them is a generation of TEXTBOOK learners. It has created friction.
Vicki D. It has also created a missed opportunity for learning.
Stewart M. That’s exactly the impetus behind my work – building tools that shift away from the traditional textbook model and allow both intuitive and participative learning.
Vicki D. Intuitive learning combined with the power of Google and a wiki make for great socratic teaching without Socrates having to ask the questions – the students learn to ask their own questions.
Vicki D. I think that your tools are desperately needed. I like the powerpoints and test banks that come with my textbooks but I want MORE. I want integrated tools such as wikis to record my best practices and learn from others.
Vicki D. We’ve got to move from static material to dynamic material and I think most textbooks have made a poor attempt at this juncture.
Stewart M. At times, teachers are so afraid they don’t allow students to contribute their own knowledge as they learn. I’m issuing a very provocative call in my next two speaking engagements in May to have students directly contribute to the spectroscopy wiki, and to do it in a manner that simulates peer-reviewed publishing in journals.
Stewart M. There’s no reason not to have students learn in exactly the same environment and context that they will work professionally in.
Vicki D. I think the traditional view of teachers is being challenged by these tools. After all, they think, the teacher is supposed to be the expert — in this rapidly changing world, the students can access new, relevant information that was once only accessible to the experts.
Vicki D. They, therefore, should be included in the conversations that emerge.
Stewart M. In my opinion, this is one of the biggest reasons why students aren’t going into science careers.
Vicki D. I think we’ve missed the point and not shown students the excitement of discovery. When many teachers reveal things to students, they aren’t letting them go to discover but presenting it as “old hat.” Let them experiment and discover things and share their knowledge.
Vicki D. I think we TELL Them too much and deny them the EXPERIENCE.
Stewart M. Exactly.
Vicki D. By using wikis to share and aggregate their information we focus on the EXPERIENCE and not just dictating notes.
Vicki D. Why not do a wiki and aggregate the results of experiments. The teacher guides but does not tell the students the outcome. Let them aggregate and learn what the outcome is and draw the conclusion on their own. Then, they have learned.
Vicki D. Then, we have truly taught.
Stewart M. You’re right – and students WANT to do this. They’re already asking for it, and are willing and capable contributors.
Vicki D. This is not about proving how much we know and feeding our own egos because society has marginalized teaching as a profession. This is about using methods that really TEACH. I think that is where the fear comes in. If teachers no longer “teach” are they needed. It is a redefinition of good teaching.
Vicki D. Wikis ARE teaching! Wikis DO work! Students want to use social interaction as part of the learning process. They are more capable than we give them credit for.
Vicki D. As a side effect, it also engages parents as they see what their student are learning.
Stewart M. Teachers need to see themselves as guides, much like a good museum tour guide who takes you on the necessary path, stimulates you with a few good points, then lets you explore.
Vicki D. I had a grandmother come up to me and say “I don’t know what these things are my granddaughters are doing but I know they are excited and I know it has changed their lives.” I don’t know what to thank you for but whatever it is, keep doing it.
Vicki D. Yes, the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage.
Stewart M. I think it can also make teaching more fun for teachers – imagine (well I think you’re living the reality!) how much more engaging it is to watch your students explore, get excited, and collaboratively build knowledge, than to grade 20 identical papers that were written by disengaged students.
Stewart M. Thanks so much for your time! I’m going to publish this short chat, and then, if it’s ok with you, 3-4 posts based on your answers to my questions, so that each post can focus on one topic, i.e. structure, assignments, student & teacher reaction, etc. Sound ok?
Vicki D. Sounds great! I think it has been a good conversation. Will you link to my blog in the posts so I can see when they come up?
Vicki D. I may also post some related information as you post yours. Boy, I like Campfire, how do you get the transcripts out of here?
Stewart M. I’ll send you a link to get the transcripts. and will link to your blog – http://coolcatteacher.blogspot.com/ Thanks Vicki!
Vicki D. I’m looking for a chat client to use for review Q& A exercises. And yes on the hyperlink. Thanks!
Vicki D. Catch you later!
Apologies, for this post the comments are closed.